GET LAMP: Chuck Benton Interview
A quick rush out the door at 9am, and I was on my way to Brunswick, Maine, to interview Chuck Benton, creator of the infamous adult text adventure game, "Softporn Adventure". I got there at 11:55, just a few hairs short of the appointed time.
His company (which he founded) had recently moved to new digs in Brunswick, inside a renovated factory, and he had a great corner office overlooking a loud, thundery dam (which I took a picture of, both from my car and from his window). Lighting wise, his office couldn't have been better; I ended up using no artifical light (although you can see I set one up in case it was needed) and the shot, while a standard "guy in office" shot, was clear and clean. An excellent setup.
We interviewed for about an hour and 20 minutes. Here's a paraphrase of some of what we covered.
Chuck Benton is the author of a text adventure called "Softporn Adventure". He created it originally while being employed elsewhere, and teaching himself database and other programming techniques on an Apple II. After he made a first revision, the positive reaction from friends convinced him he should try making an "official" version. At the time, it was first called "Super Stud Adventure" but got renamed quickly to "Softporn Adventure". He sold this program under his own label, Blue Sky Software, but then decided to see about selling it through a publisher. He went with On-line Systems (later Sierra Online) and they accepted it. He recrafted it for them, working in Massachusetts (where he's from) and then flying out to do additional work.
The distinctive cover of the program has three nude women and a waiter in a hot tub. They are all Sierra employees, and the woman on the right is in fact Roberta Williams, creator of many other Sierra Online properties such as King's Quest, Phantasmigoria and the Hi-Res series of adventures. The original plan was to use hired models, but the ladies insisted, and in doing so became part of history.
After a while, the royalty checks outstripped his salary and Chuck quit to go to developing software full time. All in all, sales of Softporn were up past the 50,000 mark, a true blockbuster for the time. Work was done on both a female version of the game and a graphic version, but these stalled and Chuck found he had a knack for doing quick development of ports of pre-existing games. This resulted in ports of games such as Frogger, and a game called B.C.'s Quest for Tires. (Chuck indicates that while it was originally supposed to be a port of the Colecovision version of Quest for Tires, they stalled out and he ended up having to compose the latter part of the game himself.)
Chuck eventually moved into business for himself, founding his company TSI and working there to this day, doing many interesting projects and developments for corporations and the military. He has never forgotten his roots and in fact boxes of his first works are on the wall when you walk into the office, including a framed copy of a Time magazine issue which features the cover of Softporn on it. He also has copies of all his games in his office, which he had in pristine condition until one day his son decided to see what was inside them.
Our interview mostly centered around Softporn, working at Sierra in the early days, his thoughts on Leisure Suit Larry, which was initially a graphic reworking of Softporn, and the nature of text adventures.
After the interview, Chuck pulled out a very special artifact; a folder with both original Softporn development disks, a baggie/xerox packaging of the original Blue Sky version of the program ("I made 1000 and sold 100", he said, indicating he has 900 in storage somewhere) and coolest of all, actual printouts of the original BASIC source code of the Softporn Adventure program! I took a ton of photos.
An excellent interview, an excellent time, and I was home by 5pm.
Single shot of Chuck Benton at his desk at work.